Political Symbolism in the Elian Gonzalez Case: the AP Photo Seen Round the World

The AP Photo: "Federal Child Abuse"

In the ironic 24-hour mediascape we now inhabit, images replicate with striking speed. Immediately following the INS raid on the Gonzalez home, the Miami Herald and other newspapers that morning (only a few scant hours later) carried a picture snapped by an AP photographer on the scene, showing an armed and helmeted INS agent confronting Donato Dalyrymple and young Elian with a (as it turns out, safety-enabled) weapon. Even to Americans far away from the scene, it was reminescent of "brown shirts" and stormtroopers.

Within a few days, this image, along with the caption "Federal Child Abuse," was appearing on T shirts, on cars, on placards, on signs, on buildings... like a viral meme it spread all over Little Havana and all over Miami. AP insisted it held copyright to the photo, but in the age of the Internet, people will claim hold of whatever images they want to make their own... regardless of who is considered the "owner"...

It is reported that within hours of the picture being snapped, it was appearing in newspapers and Internet web pages all over the world, truly almost like a global virus.

Morphed through the magic of Photoshop...

Several people quickly produced Photoshop alterations of the picture, putting Bill Clinton or Janet Reno or Fidel Castro's head on the armed agent, showing who the photo-doctors considered really responsible for what happened. These altered images also replicated at stunning speed, turning up all over Miami. I have also seen a variety of video clips on the Internet made from the photo, including a rather infamous one using crude animation (only the mouths move) where Elian yells "WUZZUP!" to a confronting INS agent.

Used as a symbol...

The image itself quickly became a symbol incorporated into other placards and signs with other images... just part of a mosaic of indictments against the U.S. government. Frequently, Nazi images and metaphors would appear in these images, explicitly accusing various parties in the government of fascist attitudes and behavior for participating in the raid.

Other images from the raid...

Also circulating throughout the community, following the raid, were photos of a crying and traumatized Marisleysis (Elian's cousin and also part-time surrogate mother) and images of a rather savage looking female INS agent (Mills) carrying Elian to the car. The angle and lighting of the photo make her look pretty sinister, although in reality in the image she is mostly simply showing stress and agitation.